K is for a Kingdom of Keys

I’ve been known to be a creature of habit; a little routined, a tad rehearsed, a titch regulated. Whether it’s going through a familiar sequence at my desk each morning, re-packing my handbag each night, or falling for the same type of unattainable bloke again and again, I can sometimes tick along like a well-wound clock. And not always on purpose.

Exactly one year, to the day, before I started writing this particular blog post on Lord Sunday, the seventh and final book in Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ series, I posted on book six, Superior Saturday. This was completely unintentional—I had no Keys to the Kingdom September plan—but it has made me think about some of my reading and book-procuring habits (and my occasional yearning to perform tasks in counts of 10 – yep, true).

Could there be certain things about certain times of year, or certain situations, which lend themselves to particular reading choices? I don’t mean that you read a particular author every August because that’s when the publisher always releases their books; I mean something to do with a mood or feeling that inclines you towards a particular genre in particular moments or at particular times. Take the seasons, for example. Like food and beer, I believe I may read heavier in winter and lighter in summer. There’s something about warm days, bright light and constant social distractions which turn me off an 800-page allegory, or a squintily peered at classic. In summer I am not naturally inclined towards a long-haul read, social-realism or something which required an index; but in winter you can load me up with a literary doorstop, a bleak account of modern life or even the odd footnote, and I’m much more inclined to immerse myself. Pop me over to a tropical island for a week and I’ll take some kind of borderline chick lit. Take me to the northern hemisphere for 8 weeks of winter and I’ll seriously consider that Beckett biography I still haven’t got around to reading. I can’t read anything too thought-necessary on planes, but I can on trains. When I’m reading a book which is a sharer between family and friends, I always want to be the last to read it. Some new books I just have to read next; while others I almost enjoy prolonging their life in the pile, awaiting the pleasure that is to come.

Lord Sunday has waited some time. When you’ve enjoyed a series, the last book is bittersweet. You experience the satisfaction of conclusion with the sadness of discontinuation. It feels like you’ve been waiting so long for this moment, but now that it’s here you don’t want it to end, you don’t want to know, you can’t let go.

Arthur Penhaligon has almost finished his journey in the House. He has one more key-holder to beat, one more part of the Will to secure, and then he can stop the awful spread of nothing, restore the house to its former glory, save his friends and family back on Earth, and go back to being a normal boy (well, as much as his exposure to other worldly power will let him). Up in Lord Sunday’s Incomparable Garden all hell is breaking loose, and all Arthur wants to do is finish up and head home. It’s not much for a nice boy to ask for but like many souls before him, Arthur must first complete his destiny.

Garth Nix should be congratulated for a very thorough tying up of storylines, character arcs and loose ends. It is more than clear in his seventh and final novel that this series was well-planned and not just a good idea which got ‘stretched out’. I have no questions. I feel no wanting.  Whether this is completely ideal I am yet to decide. I do feel a little like it’s all been tidied up, boxed and slipped under the bed, but then if something was left hanging, surely I would have been annoyed at this. Surely?

I don’t want to give away plots but will say the story’s conclusion was unexpected; I hadn’t thought that was where we were all heading. I’d had inklings of certain spanners and twists but not the ultimate one which revealed itself. I think it was a brave ending, particularly for a children’s book. Mr Nix could have gone down the road of least resistance and given us an all-conquering, life-goes-back-to-being-normal-and-awesome finish, but he didn’t. Not that it was ‘bad’. Just not easy. In fact, I found the last few chapters to be both thoroughly sad and wonderful at the same time, and found myself wishing in a way that the whole series had bent to this tone and perspective more. This last comment suggests that I found something lacking in the writing elsewhere but that’s not really so. I did seem to lose some enthusiasm for the series in the last couple of books as the story wasn’t quite taking me to the adventurous place the first books did. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like them, just that they didn’t ‘give’ me as much as I hoped. I think this may also have something to do with these books being pitched – correctly – at the storyline level of the kids who are supposed to be reading them. I am not, after all, eleven. But if these last few chapters are a sign of the usual maturity and wonder of Nix’s writing then I’m keen for more. Perhaps I’ll even make reading his stories a habit.